Sunday, October 4, 2009

Remembering Nan and Her Recipe for Italian Chicken and Escarole Soup


Fall has arrived in San Diego. This morning on our hike Jeff and I could see our breath in the blustery morning air. We loved it.

There's nothing like a chill October morning with a crisp blue sky to evoke feelings of nostalgia. Within minutes of our hike, our talk turned to missing New England and our autumn traditions, like apple picking, pumpkin carving, and decorating for Halloween.

One person in particular has been on our mind: my grandmother, Nan. I have written about Nan numerous times on this blog, and many of my regular readers feel as if they know her. Last October 5th, Nan turned one hundred years old. She had no idea of the significance of the day. But she did love her whipped cream covered chocolate cake with pink roses, so much so, that she ate two big slices. Watching her enjoy that cake was the best part of the day.

This past July, Nan passed away peacefully, with my mother by her side. Yes, she was fortunate to live to 100. Still, I miss her. We all do.

Next week Jeff and I are going back to Rhode Island. This morning on our hike, I instinctively said to him, "When are we going to visit Nan?" Then I realized, Wait a minute. We can't visit Nan. It's strange how that happens.

Feeling blue for Nan and for New England, I decided to make us something soul-soothing: Nan's Italian Chicken Soup with Escarole. What made her soup special was escarole -- a crisp, bitter type of endive that lends robust flavor. If you're wondering where the mini meatballs are, you won't find any here. Nan couldn't abide meatballs in chicken soup, and neither can I. That's all there is to it.

This recipe is based on Nan's soup, though it isn't her exact recipe. It couldn't possibly be -- she never used recipes. For her, it was always just "a little of this" and "a pinch of that." This won't taste exactly like Nan's -- no one's ever could -- but it will sooth your belly and your soul. The way only your grandmother's chicken soup can. Thanks, Nan.

Italian chicken soup with escarole

Nan's Italian Chicken and Escarole Soup
Makes 8-10 servings
Print recipe only here.

2-2 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 yellow onion, diced
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch slices
4 celery stalks with leaves, cut into 1/4-inch slices
12 cups chicken stock or broth
1 head of escarole, chopped (about 5 cups)
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
1/2 cup grated Reggiano-Parmigiano cheese, plus extra for garnish
2 cups cooked ditalini or other small pasta, optional*

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with tinfoil (for easy clean-up). Drizzle 2 tablespoons olive oil over chicken. Sprinkle with several shakes of salt and pepper. Place in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Cook for 30 minutes. Remove, and cool slightly. Then using a fork, shred the chicken.

2. Meanwhile, in a large pot over medium heat, add remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add onions, carrots, and celery, and saute 5-7 minutes, or until lightly browned. Add the cooked chicken and broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce to low. Add escarole, salt, crushed red pepper, parsley, and cheese. Cook for 20-25 minutes. Taste it, and adjust seasonings as needed. Add cooked pasta, if desired. Otherwise, serve hot, and garnish each serving with additional grated cheese.

*Nan would add the cooked pasta only just before serving so it wouldn't soak up all the broth. I do the same. I'd also highly recommend serving some crusty Italian bread with this soup. How are else are you going to sop up the broth at the bottom of the bowl?

Here are more posts featuring Nan and her recipes:
Nan's Italian Lentil Soup
Italian Asparagus, Mushroom, and Parmesan Frittata
Potato, Pepper, and Onion Frittata
The Best Ever Pineapple Upside Down Cake
Italian Ricotta Pie with Pineapple
Italian Pizzelle Cookies
Italian Pepper Biscuits
My NPR piece: Nan's Way: The Only Way to Make Easter Pies (includes an audio interview!)